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Published 2010
This article provides an introduction to the classification of
frieze patterns by reducing the problem to studying the symmetries
of a cylinder. It will be an advantage if you have never met frieze
groups but in any case pause now and think about all the symmetries
of a cylinder that you can visualise.
It is intuitively obvious that the cylinder can be used as a
paint roller so that if a pattern is embossed on it, the pattern
can be transferred to paper by repeating it over and over again in
a strip with each revolution of the cylinder. Conversely, given a
frieze pattern on a piece of paper one can wrap the paper around a
cylinder of a suitable radius in such a way that the pattern is
produced once and only once on the cylinder. For the purposes of
this work we consider symmetries of the cylinder other than those
involving rotations about the axis of the cylinder which would
correspond to the frieze pattern being copied more than once on the
surface of the cylinder.

Frieze patterns and wallpaper patterns occur in the art of many
cultures and there is often evidence of exploration of the
different possible symmetries. Escher's work was influenced by the
frieze and wallpaper patterns he saw on a visit to The Alhambra in
Granada, Spain. Some Japanese patterns have to be
matched in pairs in one of the NRICH challenges, an NRICH article
investigates frieze patterns
in car tracks and here is an article by Heather McLeay
on frieze groups illustrated by her photos of cast iron railings
taken all over the world. 
Photo by Heather McLeay

With the footstep pattern on the cylinder shown here the only
symmetries are the identity transformation and reflection in a
plane containing the axis of the cylinder. Suppose you denote this
reflection by $Y$ then $Y^2=I$ and the group is $\{I, Y\}$.The
group operation for all the groups referred to in this article is
combination of the transformations and for simplicity we simply
refer to the groups by giving the set of elements.

This pattern involves a reflection $Y$ in a plane through the
axis of the cylinder and a reflection $X$ in a plane perpendicular
to the axis. The corresponding group must contain the combined
transformation $XY$. Can you see that $XY$ and $YX$ both give a
rotation about a line perpendicular to the axis of the cylinder? We
shall call this rotation $R$. Further checking reveals that
$X^2=Y^2=R^2=I$, $XR=RX=Y$ and $YR=RY=X$ so this frieze group is
$\{I, X, Y, R\}$. Combining any number of the transformations $X$,
$Y$ and $R$ in any order will always reduce to this group of four
elements.
There are simpler groups $\{I, X\}$ and $\{I, R\}$ but as soon
as we include two of the transformations $X$, $Y$ and $R$ we get
all three transformations in the group. While there is only one
group of the type $\{I,X\}$ there are many identical in structure
(isomorphic) to $\{I, R\}$.

We have now described five types of group depicted in the
first five illustrations here which use a simpler motif than the
footprint. The remaining groups involve glide reflections. The
group shown in the sixth illustration is the group involving the
identity and a glide reflection $G$ where $G^2=I$ so the group is
$\{I, G\}$.This is the footprint pattern for someone walking on the
beach.
We have already checked what happens when we form any
combinations of $X$, $Y$ and $R$ with each other and discovered
that they yield only five possible frieze group types.
It remains to check what happens when we combine $G$ with $X$,
$Y$ or $R$ and to discover how many additional groups this
gives.
First check $XG$. This gives a translation half way around the
circumference of the cylinder so it is ruled out as one of the
acceptable frieze group types because when printed it would give
two translations with one revolution of the cylinder.
